Dear Hollywood Producer,
How do I put this and not be offensive? It’s really not about you. It’s about the money—the cash that you pay me. Today.
I think it’s wonderful that you hang out with Spielberg and Hanks every weekend. You have every reason to be pleased with your success over the years, and I appreciate your commitment to making the movie based on my book a smash success. Even bigger than Titanic, you say. Holy cow!
But I’ll still take the money, thank you. A big honkin’ check. The bigger and honkiner the better. On signing. As I put ink on the contract.
The back-end money? That extra hunk of cash you’ll give me on the first day of principal photography? Oh, hell yeah, I’ll take that, too. That’ll be a great payday—two times, maybe three times the signing money. Absolutely, I’ll take it. And I’ll be very grateful. But I think of that as “tomorrow money.”
“Today money” is much more important to me.
Let’s be honest with each other. We both know that a thousand things have to go right with nothing going wrong for the movie ever to be made. It’ll take years. And in that time, studios will merge, executives will come and go, and laws will change. Hollywood is built on “tomorrow money” snatched from the hands of writers.
Oh, no, ma’am. I’m not suggesting that you would swindle me. I stipulate that you’re one of the good ones, one of the honest ones. Forgive me that I still count my fingers after we shake hands. Force of habit.
So, if it’s all the same to you, I’ll take the money today. Up front.
Yes, of course I would like to see my stories up on the big screen, and no, I would never try to get in the way of that happening, but again, may I be honest? We both know that the story projected onto the screen—if it is ever projected at all—will bear only a slight resemblance to the story I wrote. The screenwriter you hire to adapt my book will be paid way more than what you paid me, and during the course of penning the adaptation, said screenwriter won’t be the least bit interested in my thoughts about the script.
No, no, I’m not upset. I recognize that that’s the way things are done, and I’m fine with it. You just have to pay me for the right to turn the film adaptation of my book into some weird parody of the story. I give you my blessing.
If the check is big enough, I won’t even care.
From where I sit, the value of that first check shows me your commitment to follow through on making the movie. You offer me $5,000 and I think, “You pay more than that for your first-class ticket to Sundance. Sure, it’s a lot of money to me, but for you, it’s chump change.” Offer me $1 million, and now I know you’re serious. That’s real skin in the game. For me, a tempting offer would fall somewhere in the middle, but understand where I’m coming from: The more squirmy you are about the up-front payment, the more likely I am to receive that back-end payment on the first day of principal photography. Madame Producer, I want you to be motivated to make a movie that will get me paid again.
You say you can only afford to pay me $5,000? Okay, there’s a way around that. Give me ownership points, a percentage of every dollar the movie makes. No, no, not the points on profit that you typically offer to schmuck writers like me. I mean the first dollar points that you’ll give to the screenwriter who adapts my story, or to the actor who will recite my words. That’d be the perfect setup for both of us. You’ll have little risk up front, and I only make big money if the movie makes big money.
Yes, of course I know that is never done. Writers have never been truly respected by Hollywood. The studios want the world to believe that movies are created by directors and producers and actors. Writers need to stay quiet on the sidelines.
And I’m good with that, really, I am. Just, you know, pay me.